… in the air (and a rant on Net Zero)

More on affordable and social housing below, but first, a late addition to this newsletter…

It seems that, not content with trashing the country, the Conservatives are now hellbent on trashing the planet. As of yesterday, Rishi Sunak has gone wobbly on Net Zero. He claims government policy needs to be “proportionate”. Just what IS “proportionate” to an existential threat to life on Earth?

And now to homes. 

An Englishman’s home is his castle, the saying goes. But for too many Englishmen – and Englishwomen – it’s a castle in the air.

We have a chronic shortage of decent, affordable housing, and how are kids supposed to study if they don’t have a quiet space to do their homework? How can parents prepare healthy food if they don’t have access to a kitchen? How can people thrive if they live in overcrowded, damp, and/or mouldy homes?

There are 25 million homes in England. Sounds like a lot. But in the last 40 years, the population has risen by 3.4%, while the number of dwellings has risen by only 1.9%.

To meet unmet demand nationally, we would need to build between 300,000 and 600,000 new homes annually for the next decade. That’s somewhere between another Milton Keynes to another Manchester every year.

At the same time, a little part of me grieves every time I see a greenfield site turned into a building site. Greenfield is great for developers – virgin territory generates maximum profits.

Brownfield comes with a lot of issues – pre-existing rubble and contamination that has to be removed before building can begin. Sites might also be odd shapes, present access problems, and have neighbours that don’t want the mud and noise of construction, or to lose their views or their light.

But these fill-in developments need to be made more attractive, both financially and aesthetically, if we’re going to avoid urban sprawl creeping inexorably across our countryside. Smaller developments also help avoid the them-and-us resentment often generated by massive new estates.

What else do we need?

  • More small homes – 2 and 3 bedroom houses are in the shortest supply
  • Genuinely affordable housing, which for many people means significantly lower than market rent, to replace the council housing that was sold off under Margaret Thatcher
  • Local, small developers who have a vested interest in the local community, and won’t just make their profits and bugger off
  • Accommodation above shops to recreate vibrant town centres
  • Future-proof homes built to high eco standards – a more efficient use of resources than having to retrofit later with insulation, heat pumps, solar panels, etc
  • Co-housing developments that build community as well as homes, to help address the loneliness epidemic and encourage neighbours to form social support networks
  • Higher density housing – not 60s-style blocks of flats, but aesthetically-pleasing stepped buildings with outdoor space to grow flowers and vegetables
  • Housing developments with decent amenities – cafes, pubs, shops, public transport, cycle and walking paths, doctors’ surgeries, libraries, village halls, etc

And above all, we need to prioritise the needs of local communities. We need collaboration between developers and residents, because housing isn’t just a profit calculation on a spreadsheet. It impacts real people with real lives, real families, and real livelihoods, now and for many decades into the future. We need to shift from profit-centric development to people- and planet-centric development.

Food and Farming

I get a weekly veg box from Riverford Organic Farmers. Today I received this impassioned plea from the founder, Guy Singh-Watson. Echoing the Ford UK exec who berated Rishi Sunak’s government for their lack of “ambition, commitment, and consistency”, Guy is asking for signatures on a petition requiring the big supermarkets to be more committed and more consistent with their suppliers, to:
– Buy what they agreed to buy
– Pay what they agreed to pay
– Pay on time

Farmers, like car manufacturers, operate on long timescales. Nature doesn’t operate on the same cycle as quarterly profit reports.

The world seems to be spinning faster and faster. Technologies spread more quickly. Home shopping is delivered sooner. We (at least, I!) get impatient if a website takes more than a second to load. Government ministers (and prime ministers) rotate at dizzying speed.

Sometimes speed is good. Sometimes not so much. Commitment used to be seen as an honourable quality. The balance has tilted too far in favour of fast and fickle.

Roz at Large

My recording for BBC Politics West got bumped up from Friday 13th October to tomorrow, airing 10am this Sunday. So that has focused the mind marvellously!

I will be at the Lib Dem autumn conference in Bournemouth this coming weekend, and will be speaking on the main stage during the conference rally at some point between 5.30 and 7.30 on Saturday.

I’ll be at the Planet Local Summit in Bristol on 29th-30th Sept.

Then I’m appearing with Wilder Journeys editor Laurie King at the Blue Earth Summit in Bristol on 11th October at 5pm, and speaking at Explorers Connect, also in Bristol, at 7pm on 12th October.

In the meantime, if you live in the Cotswolds you’re likely to see me out and about on a frequent basis. Look out for the yellow hat – and I’ll be under it!

Quote of the Week

“We have a duty to show up in the world with meaning and purpose and commitment to doing good. And to use any privilege that we have to make positive change and to disrupt oppressive systems.”
— Meena Harris
Have a great week!


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